Current Limits of U.S.-Israel Security Cooperation

March 11, 2013 12:01 am 1 comment

President George W. Bush of United States (center) discusses the Middle East peace process with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel (left) and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in Aqaba, Jordan, 2003.

This article by Shoshana Bryen was originally published by the Gatestone Institute.

Shared values and democratic systems count for a lot in the political world — and they can advance military cooperation — but national security interests can evolve without them. No one would mistake Saudi Arabia or Bahrain for a country that shares American values, yet the U.S. Central Command works closely and cooperatively with both.

Israel shares American values in many ways, but a shared security outlook is something else, hinging on threat perceptions that may no longer be coincident.

Vice President Biden took to the stage at AIPAC this week to promote U.S.-Israel security relations. His emphasis on American support for Israel’s missile defense program is the coin of the realm – first because it is true and second because Israel’s enemies have missiles.

But security relations have undergone a subtle, negative change in the past four years.

The Obama administration has been willing to be Israel’s protector, patron to a client, or parent to a child. This patronizing attitude is reflected in the President’s assertion that Israel’s democratically elected leaders “don’t know what’s in their own best interest” and Vice President Biden’s comment that President Obama wants to hear from “regular Israelis” on his upcoming trip, suggesting that what he hears from Prime Minister Netanyahu would be disputed by Israel’s citizenry. The administration is less willing to be Israel’s partner in addressing common threats, including terrorism and the rise of radical Islam. And there has been a limit to consultation and cooperation on Iran. On occasion, the U.S. adds to Israel’s problems by allowing Israel to bear the brunt of the world’s disapprobation at the UN.

The History

Israel’s first strategic allies were France and Great Britain. The U.S. was sympathetic to Israel’s plight as small and vulnerable to threats from combinations of Arab states, but except for a desire not to have socialist Israel in the pro-Soviet camp and the 1956 Eisenhower outburst, the U.S. was uninvolved in Israeli security. President Johnson declined to be of assistance to Israel in the Six Day War.

Presidents Nixon and Reagan saw Israel in the Cold War context. Nixon stood with Israel as a defensive measure against the Soviet Union in 1973. Reagan opened “strategic cooperation” as a forward step in a plan to defeat the USSR. His idea of ballistic missile defenses was matched by Israeli innovation in the field; the result was tremendous advancement and in-depth cooperation.

At the end of the Cold War, President Clinton called for “capabilities based” defense to cover contingencies rather than specific enemies. Israel was well placed to continue to work with the United States and provide technological capabilities and test beds. Israel established warm relations with some of the newest NATO members, Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as with Bulgaria and Romania.

After 9-11, President Bush’s formulation of a “war against terrorists and the states that harbor and support them” resonated fully with Israel, and there was increased closeness and cooperation on perceived regional threats. But congruity of interests is never total. When American and Israeli positions on Iran diverged (about 2007), President Bush refused Israel weapons that could be used against Iran.

The Present

When the Obama Administration redefined the wars in which the United States is engaged, the words “Islamic” or “Muslim” terrorism and radical Islam were shelved in favor of more neutral appellations. In his Cairo address, President Obama sought to establish “mutual respect” between the West and the “Muslim world,” and he accepted the view that policies of the West were partly responsible for the antagonism of Muslims toward the United States. He called Israel’s independence a response to the Holocaust — a charge that fed into the Arab complaint that Israel was foisted on the region by guilty Europeans rather than by being a legitimate and permanent part of the region.

Without commenting on the approach itself, it should be noted that the independence of and continuing support for Israel is, by the definition of its enemies, part of what the West did and does that creates antagonism in the “Muslim world.” And for those who believe, as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has said, that terrorists are created as a reaction to Western provocation, support for Israel is precisely such a provocation.

In terms of military cooperation, then, the President’s formulation reduced the ability of Israel to have equal stature with the United States in a regional mission.

The United States in the United Nations

At the outset, the Obama administration made it clear that the United Nations would be its preferred venue for diplomacy. In contrast to the Bush administration, the U.S. rejoined the UN Human Rights Commission and the UN Alliance of Civilizations, an openly anti-Israel body which claimed in 2006 that global tensions were driven primarily by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and referred to the September 11th attacks as resulting from “a perception among Muslim societies of unjust aggression stemming from the West.”

It was in the Alliance of Civilizations that Turkey’s Prime Minister last week lumped Zionism with “Islamophobia” and anti-Semitism as racist doctrines and “war crimes.”

In the UN Security Council, the U.S. declined to support Canada’s traditional, once-a-decade bid for a seat. Canada, an outspoken supporter of Israel, lost to Portugal, a stalwart representative of EU ambivalence. The U.S. voted against the infamous “Goldstone Report,” but declined to use its influence to encourage others to do the same. The administration demanded a “total settlement freeze” from Israel and allowed Israeli policies to be denounced in the fiercest terms in the Security Council before exercising its veto. The U.S. brokered a Security Council “compromise” that allowed Israel to be criticized along with Syria.

The administration accepted the 2010 UN Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Review that singled out Israel for condemnation – despite public statements that it would never do that.

Bilateral Cooperation while Preserving Distance

There has been an increase in Ballistic Missile Defense cooperation, which is good for Israel: its enemies have missiles. But it represents a completely defensive option. The administration is comfortable with the idea of defending Israel, but by putting Israel in the position of the “defense client” it was until 1980, rather than by enhancing its status as a “partner” in mutual defense — this is not a step forward.

Further, defense is irrelevant until after an attack. Any thought Israel has about protecting its citizens through pre-emptive measures is not covered. Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress, “I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israelis] choose to do it [attack Iran's nuclear program].” That remark must have greatly comforted Iran.

Austere Challenge, a once-cancelled U.S.-Israel missile defense exercise, did go forward at the end of 2012, but in a scaled back mode, most likely to reassure Iran that it was not cover for any offensive activity. In case this dodge was not clear, Gen. Craig Franklin, Commander of U.S. Third Air Force, repeated that point several times in a single interview before the exercise: “It’s purely to provide defensive capabilities with Israel. … This exercise doesn’t look at any particular threat, it looks at a threat scenario that is notional. … This is a military exercise not tied to any particular recent world event, it’s just a notional exercise. … As I mentioned, this is not related to any particular recent world event.”

While missile defense cooperation continues, the Obama administration has taken overt steps to tell the Arab and Muslim world that the U.S. is severable from Israel. The NATO-related air rescue operation Anatolian Eagle was canceled because Turkey would not let Israel participate. Last May, the Administration held Eager Lion 2012, a Special Operations exercise with 19 Arab and Muslim countries, including Egypt, Lebanon and Pakistan.

The tactics and training of Special Operations is an important component of Israel’s “qualitative military edge.” How much of what the U.S. and Israel developed over the years was shared with countries overtly hostile to Israel? Israel was not invited to the May 2012 NATO confab, although 13 NATO “partner nations” were invited to discuss terrorism. Two other US-organized and -led multilateral counterterrorism confabs excluded Israel as well.

When Turkey objected to the sharing of intelligence information with Israel, Secretary of Defense Panetta said no NATO radar intelligence would be shared “outside of NATO.” Secretary Hagel is unlikely to share what Secretary Panetta would not.

Cooperation in the Future

The U.S. and Israel continue to share values across the board, share capabilities in certain areas and to acknowledge common threats. President Obama’s visit to Israel later in the month would be an opportune time to think about how to end the current patron-client relationship and restore Israel’s position as a security partner to the United States.

This article by Shoshana Bryen was originally published by the Gatestone Institute.

1 Comment

  • President to the European Parliament today, 3/12/13:
    “Israel was born from the ashes at the end of the Second World War.”
    How is it that Peres can say it, and no Gentile (Obama) can?

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Blogs 10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    Ten major film studios are currently in production on projects that promote a decidedly pro-Israeli narrative. In famously liberal Hollywood, such a development has left mouths agape and set tongues a wagging. Since the Jewish State began defending itself from the thousands of rockets that Hamas has hurled at it – as well as ongoing terror attacks and murders, the overwhelming number of Tinseltown’s producers, directors, actors, and studio moguls have remained indifferent to the plight of millions of Israeli [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Sports So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    Israeli Judoka Yarden Gerbi (63kg), 25, of Netanya, on Thursday lost the final round at the Judo World Cup, and her world title to Clarisse Agbegnenou of France, at a match held in Russia. “I have mixed feelings,” Gerbi told Israeli Army radio. But, “I shouldn’t assume that I’d win the world Judo championship twice in a row,” she admitted. Gerbi won gold in Rio De Janeiro last year. “When I made my decision, I knew it was going to [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    “Jews Out!” was just the name of a child’s game that three little girls played in World War II Europe. But all is not as it seems because the three girls were Jewish, but hiding their true identities. In award-winning author R. D. Rosen’s riveting non-fiction work, Such Good Girls, “Jews Out!” wasn’t a game; it was a struggle for survival. The girls, Sophie, Flora, and Carla, grew up at a time and a place that did not allow them [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    JNS.org – “He was part hippie, part yippie, part beatnik, and part New Age,” wrote Elli Wohlgelernter in a Jerusalem Post eulogy in 1994, following the Oct. 20 passing of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Twenty years later, more robust accounts of Carlebach’s life have come to the surface. Earlier this year, Natan Ophir published the book Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission & Legacy. This past summer, Rabbi Shlomo Katz’s The Soul of Jerusalem hit the shelves. But even the authors will admit [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    As Hamas loses its grip on power in the Gaza Strip as a result of war, poverty and disillusionment, the Islamist terrorist group has developed an ingenious way to raise the moral of the 1.7 million Palestinian Arabs it was elected to serve. While currently focused on delivering a rocket into every Israeli home, Hamas has not left its own people behind. To gently wipe away the tears of children strategically placed inside kindergartens as human shields, the Hamas Interior Ministry has [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    In a strong statement that challenges the historic divide between Christianity and Judaism, Pope Francis recently proclaimed, “Inside every Christian is a Jew.” But if you look at Renaissance artworks that depict Jesus, you will not find any evidence of a Jew inside the Christianized Jesus — even though the Gospels in the New Testament tell us that Jesus was Jewish to the core. Getting that point across to the public is a daunting task, as I learned in interviews I [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Recycling His Roots

    Recycling His Roots

    JNS.org – Having started his career playing on his family’s pots and pans, Jewish musician Billy Jonas has maintained this homemade performance ethic while spreading his messages of simple living and environmentalism to a shared home throughout the world. After beginning in the kitchen, Jonas soon moved to the music room, where he picked up the piano, guitar, and trombone. These days, the multi-talented multi-instrumentalist plays on with pretty much anything he can find, including cans, bottles buckets, and other recycled-object [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    JNS.org – Sara Davidson’s The December Project is a new book that should be read by all senior citizens, and by those who hope to live a long life, for it raises a question that most of us have not been taught how to answer: What should we do in that final stage of our lives? Many of us continue working past the traditional retirement age of 65, not because we need the money and not because we find the [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.